WASHINGTON – U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions outraged the legal cannabis industry last week when he rescinded the Cole Memo, which allowed states to implement their own marijuana laws without fear of federal interference. Now, another pot protection is at risk, one that Sessions would like to see disappear.
The Rohrabacher-Blumenauer Amendment, which prevents the Department of Justice from using federal funds to prosecute legal cannabis users and business owners, is set to expire on January 19 unless congress can finalize another stop-gap funding bill or approve a final spending plan for the current fiscal year. But an effort is underway at the Department of Justice to encourage lawmakers to not include the amendment in the final 2018 omnibus spending package, giving Sessions and his attorneys the power and resources to federally prosecute cannabis business owners and consumers operating under state law.
It’s up to Congress to renew the amendment or take things even further by ending cannabis prohibition once and for all.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-Corning, NY 23), Chautauqua County’s representative in Washington, says he does support using marijuana/cannabis for medicinal purposes, but is also reluctant to support a push to end prohibition altogether, or even remove it from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of Schedule 1 drugs.
A schedule 1 drug is considered any drug that has a high potential for abuse and also has no accepted medical treatment use. Marijuana has been on the DEA’s schedule 1 list since the list was first created in the early 1970s, putting it in the same category as heroin and cocaine.
More than two dozen states have legalized marijuana for medicinal use, while a handful of states have also legalized it for recreational use. Advocates of marijuana legalization also argue that by fully legalizing or even simply reclassifying marijuana, millions of Americans who are currently prevented from using medical marijuana would be able to benefit from its therapeutic value.
Earlier this week during a conference call with regional media, Reed told WRFA that while he does support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, he doesn’t currently support legalizing it for recreational use.
“I have supported medicinal use of marijuana and prescriptions to alleviate medical conditions that are out there, but as we go down the path of legalizing recreational marijuana, so it is similar to alcohol, I think we should defer to individual states,” Reed said.
Reed also said there are a number of factors to consider when legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and it’s something that needs to be tracked over the long-term before federal officials will likely fully legalize the drug.
“We need to see how this develops, Reed said, who then outlined a number of concerns. “Addiction is going to be identified as a result of recreational marijuana use, that is a real issue. The issue of driving while under the influence of marijuana, I think, is one that is going through the laboratories of the states. And you’ve got to look at the issue of workplace use of marijuana and the risks that recreational marijuana poses to our workplace safety.”
While states like Colorado and California continue to monitor the long-term impact of legalizing marijuana for recreational use, advocates for full legalization across the country hope that speaking to the economic upside will be enough to persuade some lawmakers to through their support behind it, or at least fight the Justice Department’s efforts to be able to fully enforce federal drug laws. Advocates say legalization could save billions of dollars by reducing government spending on enforcement and incarceration. Additionally, billions in annual tax revenues could be generated through proposed taxation and regulation.
Several lawmakers in Washington have called for removing cannabis from the list of schedule 1 drugs, as well as fully legalizing it over the years, but so far none of those bills has gained enough support for passage in either house, let alone to be signed by the President.
Even with the potential for a regional economic boost, Reed admits that federal marijuana legalization isn’t something he’s keeping a close eye on as a representative of the economically depressed New York’s Southern Tier.
“I’m not aware of any hard proposals along those lines,” Reed told WRFA. “I know there’s been recent pushes across different members offices to address the issue of marijuana policy, and I think there’s some in there, but I don’t have them off the top of my head.”